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Prayerlessness to Prayerfulness

Written by: on January 23, 2015

In 2014, I continued my search for a meaningful prayer life. For over forty years, prayer has been an integral and vital part of my experience in the Christian life. Most of the time, prayer has been a meaningful experience; there have also been times of questioning and periods when my personal prayer life was dry and repetitious. Truthfully, I would admit to a lingering dissatisfaction; an ongoing sense that there ought to be more. My prayer life has not “arrived.” Perhaps this is true because I recognize that prayer is a pivotal element in faith formation. It is a universal truth that we continue to be formed and to grow in our spiritual being; there is always more to experience. James Earl Massey’s book Spiritual Disciplines has been a personal inspiration for me. He devotes two chapters to prayer and fasting and notes that spiritual discipline requires sacrifice, obedience and [gulp!] chastisement.[1] I don’t like discipline! However, I recognize the necessity to be disciplined if one is to grow and go deeper; this is true in all areas of life. It is through the spiritual discipline of prayer that we learn to relinquish self-control for God-control. I also returned in 2014 to Bill Bright’s work through Campus Crusade for Christ on the steps and the guide to personal fasting and prayer. Our congregation participated together in a renewed commitment to prayer and fasting as we studied the nine types of fasting in scripture.

When it comes to prayer, what is the deepest longing and the overwhelming desire of one’s spiritual being? Max Lucado in his new book (also a subject of study in 2014), Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, focuses the question this way, “[W]ouldn’t we all like to pray more? Better? Deeper? Stronger? With more fire, faith, or fervency?”[2] The answer to the question is “Yes!” but what is the practice that leads to a deeper, richer prayer life? Is it a “simple prayer” life? Lucado suggest that it is by practicing a “simple, pocket size prayer.”

Father, you are good.
I need help. Heal me and forgive me.
They need help.
Thank you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.[3]

Each phrase of this simple prayer signifies walking with God through the day by acknowledging God in the morning and thanking God in the evening. Prayer is inviting God into our world and when we do, “He brings a host of gifts: joy, patience, resilience. Anxieties come, but they don’t stick. Fears surface and then depart. Regrets land on the windshield, but then comes the wiper of prayer. … We speak. He listens. He speaks. We listen … Prayer is simply a heartfelt conversation between God and his child.”[4] Or, we might ask,  as advocated by Massey and Bright, does a deeper, richer prayer life come through discipline and fasting?

According to MaryKate Morse,[5] there are many ways to experience a rich and meaningful prayer life. There is a resonance with MaryKate in “discovering what it means to be in a love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”[6] I appreciate her acknowledgement that the prayer journey to a meaningful relationship with God is on-going and worth the effort. I have gleaned insight into the many ways to experience God’s presence through the variety of ways to walk with God. I read the Guidebook to Prayer from the perspective of a relational adventure, not looking for a list of practices that have worked for others. This perception added significantly to applying the text to my personal walk with God. MaryKate states, “Prayer is more than a practice. It is a living adventure with a relational and risen Lord.”[7] Prayer should not be an act often characterized as self-centered lamenting but should be a joy filled experience of discovery. “Prayer is not simply a mental or spiritual exercise. It is physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual.”[8]  Prayer involves the wholeness of our being in relation to the fullness of God.

Ways to Walk with God is more than a guide to the many ways we journey individually and in community in the discovery of our relationship with God; it is also a journal as we assess our own intentionality and motivation as we individually engage in prayer. The fact is, MaryKate notes, “For most of us the issue is not the abundant presence of God but our limited attention to it [the triune presence of God].”[9] The ways to walk with God are characterized as a road or path into the relational presence of God. “The introduction of various prayer types is connected to the role of the Trinity in prayer— God in the Old Testament for the design and nature of prayer, Jesus in the Gospels as the practice and breadth of prayer, and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament as the guide and power of prayer.”[10]

Prayer is always a community experience. The experiences shared throughout the text help to clarify the various ways to engage in prayer while giving individual and group identity. The opportunities or practices presented with each type of prayer help to have a meaningful prayer experience that accentuates the aspect of community. An example, as I noted above, is simplicity in prayer. Simplicity is being quiet and waiting before the triune God – as such, “Simplicity prayer is a combination of discernment and action through a listening conversation with Jesus … in silence we listen for Jesus to help us see what he sees. … Simplicity prayer unites us to God’s heart and helps us to let go.” Conversational prayer as a way to walk with God also highlights the communal nature of engaging and enhancing our prayer experience. “Praying in community is a conversation shared together about the community’s needs and conducted in sync with the Holy Spirit. We often relegate prayer to the professionals or to private times alone. The Holy Spirit was sent to be with us, among us and in us. At all times and in all places we can connect to the Holy Spirit.”[11]

Why do we prayer? It is true that scripture commands it but just being obedient will perpetrate a joyless and powerless prayer experience. There are numerous reasons that lead to “prayerlessness.”[12] A meaningful prayer experience begins by recognizing that God seeks and designed that we have a relational experience with God. MaryKate notes, “The only way to move from prayerlessness to prayerfulness is to start where we know we are.”[13] A guidebook to Prayer is a good beginning point in 2015 from where we left off in 2014.

[1] James Earl Massey, Spiritual Disciplines: A Believer’s Openings to the Grace of God (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1985), 2-4.

[2] Max Lucado, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer (Nashville, KY: Thomas Neilson, 2014), Kindle, 198.

[3] Ibid., 265.

[4] Ibid., 290-296.

[5] MaryKate Morse, A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), Kindle.

[6] Ibid., 301.

[7] Ibid., 146.

[8] Ibid., 216.

[9] Ibid., 253.

[10] Ibid., 263.

[11] Ibid., 3146.

[12] Ibid., 4429ff.

[13] Ibid.

About the Author

mm

rhbaker275

15 responses to “Prayerlessness to Prayerfulness”

  1. Ron, wonderful post. It seems that you have been on the journey of prayer for quite some time. Great job in interweaving all of the many authors that you have written as well as a great summation of the work that MaryKate presents here. Max Loucado’s analogy of the windshield. What a powerful illustration of how prayer is the wipers to wipe away all that may land upon the shield of our outlook of life. Great writing here Richard. I will be using the windshield analogy with my kids and others. Bless you as you continue to enter into that relationship that is prayer.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Mitch
      Thanks, I think most Christians have a powerful sense of the importance of prayer and many, like myself, constantly seek to know God better through prayer.

      This past year as I have served as a pastoral staff associate, the congregation has ministered to me through community prayer life. Every Wednesday we publish an updated prayer list. We are a congregation of 45 – 50 but our prayer list is two full pages. I use the word “updated.” This is not just a list of names; those on our prayer list receive intercessory prayer, phone calls, visits, cards; they know we care. As I look at this list, I am almost overcome with the needs; there are 34 family, friends and neighbors who are at some stage of cancer. We have a retired missionary couple with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Gene and Carol Fuller spent their whole life (since 1968) translating the Bible into the Chru tribal language (Vietnam). Just this week, the New Testament was hand carried (digital) to Saigon. Brother Gene is in the final stage of cancer. He has been involved in this work right up to this moment. The congregation has prayed for the last six months when no further treatment was available for Gene’s health and strength that he might witness the Chru tribe receive the Word in their own language. Prayer is a great need and ministry and we have witnessed the heart of God through prayer.

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    I hope you’re health has recovered Ron. It’s good to read your writing – always so thoroughly well thought out. I appreciate all the more your willingness to share some of your discovery about prayer over the years. You said, ” I read the Guidebook to Prayer from the perspective of a relational adventure, not looking for a list of practices that have worked for others.” This was helpful insight as it could be easy to look at the book as a “how to” rather than describing ways of relating to Our God. I found that the personal stories of real people (some of whom we know) helped to drive home that relational idea. Is there someone who has inspired you because of their approach to prayer?

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Thanks, Deve,
      Yes, I am well though still on the antibiotic.
      You ask about prayer stories that others have shared; the cohort posts this week have been great in this respect. Everyone has a prayer story; it has been especially interesting and enlightening to hear how culture, faith, and religion differences shape our stories. The stories have brought a communal nature to our prayer experience even though or perhaps because our experiences have been so diverse. The one common factor is that we do engage God through God’s relational nature. “A Guidebook to Prayer” focuses on this shared experience through the “Prayer Journey” experiences at the end of each way to walk with God and the group / partner experiences that are provided.

  3. Ron,

    I look up to you as a man of God and a man of prayer. This post confirmed that powerfully. Thanks for sharing here.

    I long to be a man of prayer. And even though the messiness of life has sometimes made me question Christianity, yet I continue to desire to have a relationship with God. Most of my prayers are short and are often confessions of my failings, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” But other prayers include requests for wisdom, which are needed regularly in my work and life in higher education. However, the prayer that I most long for is the kind of prayer that simply expresses worship to God for who He is. I find myself doing this mostly through singing to God accompanied by my guitar in the early-morning hours. I like prayer that is not always asking God for something or prayer that is not telling God what to do. I like prayer that is at it’s core, relational. And in reality, that is what it’s all about. MaryKate and you bring this out clearly. And I agree with you; this is a good place to begin in 2015.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Thanks, Bill,
      I certainly share your thoughts on prayer and I love how you approach prayer in life and living. You note that you “like prayer that is not always asking God for something or prayer that is not telling God what to do.” How easy it is to fall into this trap. Many of my prayers begin with the words “Thank you …” It is possible I utter hundreds of “Thank You” prayers every day. This is possibly an antidote to selfish and self-center prayers that are really more about our “will” than God’s will. We are told to bring our needs to God; this is different than our wants and desires. The simple, often silent, prayer that worships and honors, as you note, “God for who He is” can be deeply profound and more enriching than any words we can utter. Prayer without love is nothing.

  4. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Ron, Thank you for sharing your thoughtful post. It resonates with me when you say “prayer has been a meaningful experience; there have also been times of questioning and periods when my personal prayer life was dry and repetitious.” Like you, I continue to seek His face, because I realize that there is more into prayer than telling God what to do. God’s purpose in prayer for us is to get to know who he is and who we are in Him. Through prayers we will discern His purpose for our lives and ministries.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Telile,
      Thanks. A favorite highlight in a “Guidebook to Prayer” is where MaryKate says, “When we embrace God’s love we experience peace and have access to God’s wisdom; we see the world as God sees the world” (1131).

  5. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Ron, first off, how are you feeling? Being sick overseas or after a trip is just no fun. I hope you are healing, resting, and hydrating! Your prayer journey reminded me of Brother Lawrence and his “Practice of the Presence of God.” I’ve read his book three times, and each time, it has a profound effect of me. His prayers were conversational and simple. His struggle to connect to God in every moment of every day inspired me to seek God in new and profound ways. I long to be as connected and intimate with God as he was. … I admire your lifelong commitment to prayer, Ron, and the connection you clearly have with God. God will certainly be saying to you, “Welcome home, old friend!”

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Ashley,
      Thanks for asking – I am do well. I don’t like to admit it, necessarily, but I was really sink. It was an intestinal parasite, which I understand, and I am always so careful. I won’t even rinse my tooth bush in anything but bottled water. The situation for me was exacerbated by the fact it was 8 days before a got to a doctor who could prescribe an antibiotic. I actually lost a full week in study (and everything else).

      Thanks for your comments on prayer – I really mean it when I say I believe there is so much more in store – pray is rich and deep and I want more of what God has to offer. I like a lot of the cohort posts and how MaryKate’s writing stresses the communal aspects of prayer. I understand that we do not pray to be heard or use eloquent words but I love to hear other people pray; I have learned to listen intently, not just to the words spoken by others but for God to speak in those moments – it is deep and rich.

  6. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Thank you for adding to MaryKate’s work with still more great insight, both from other authors and from your own experience. I concur that obedient prayer can be dry. Simple prayer can be freeing, That all prayer is communal. And on and on. So I will note one tiny mention – our limited attention given to God. In your post, and in your responses to others above, I see your focused attention. I honor that. I have been working on calming my mind and heart and body to not be distracted by the many things in my mind when I pray. But I am also working to keep the conversation with God going throughout the day so that I don’t feel like I have to squeeze it all into one thought. I have decided that I want to be distracted by God, if that makes sense. I want Him to jump into my daily stuff all the time. I’m kind of rambling here, but mostly, thank you for your words.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Julie,
      Thanks, I just have to say that I really appreciate your post – very meaningful to me personally and you have simply and concisely put it all together. I have always struggled to keep good thoughts and quotes in a place where they will be there when I need them ( I have never bought a single book on illustrations). Using different note taking utilities has been tedious and I have not carried through. In this “electronic age,” I maintain files on study areas and an exegesis file on each book of the Bible and on biblical topics. I have copied your note under the topic “Prayer” – it will surface for me again in my studies. If you happen to come back to this post – do you have one single scripture above the many that you use or share?

      Yes, your comment, “I want to be distracted by God” does make sense and is worthy of reflection. In fact, I also maintain ongoing sermon topics by idea and text. “Distracted by God” That can ferment for awhile. Perhaps that is why I ask you for a scripture. Thanks again Julie.

  7. Miriam Mendez says:

    Ron, It was great reading your post. You wrote: “I read the Guidebook to Prayer from the perspective of a relational adventure, not looking for a list of practices that have worked for others. This perception added significantly to applying the text to my personal walk with God.” Thank you for reminding us of this. Sometimes we can become so focused on the practice of prayer that we can forget the relational aspect of prayer. As you said, “prayer involves the wholeness of our being in relation to the fullness of God.”. Thanks Ron! Hope you are feeling better!

  8. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Ron, thank you for your post.
    I appreciate your sharing about your long practice of prayer — of seeking God — throughout your life.
    What I found particularly poignant is your note that a rich and abundant prayer life really begins not with us seeking God, but in realizing that God seeks us.
    Amen. And thanks.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Clint,
      Wow! Thanks, I know it is late in the week, but if you happen to come back to this post, read Julie’s thoughts above. “Distracted by God!”

      Reply

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